1994 Pete Seeger Original Song Manuscript
During the '80s and the '90s, I was a journalist living in Salt Lake City and concurrently, I had started a non-profit organization that taught tree planting and tree stewardship, tree aftercare, in urbanized areas. So I ended up working all around the state. It was called Tree Utah. At the same time, our daughter was dancing with a University of Utah affiliated organization for children, and Pete Seeger was coming to town. I wrote, requesting that he would write a song for the purpose of tree planting. A couple of months later, when he came to town, I received a phone call saying, "Could you go and pick up Pete? He’s staying up at the Alta Lodge," and I was so excited, you know, I went up first thing in the morning. Pete came to the door and said, "Oh, Pepper, nice to meet you, I've got something for you." And he said, "I read your letter, and last night, 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning,” evidently he was moved sufficiently to... to wake up and write this song.
Did anyone ever perform the song?
Pete did. The day that I picked him up in the morning, we spent the day at our friend's house and had dinner there. After dinner, he took out his guitar and played the song for us.
He actually wrote this bit on the back of your letter. We can kind of see the letterhead through it for your tree organization, and I think what I found really special about this is the fact that, one, this shows how inspired he was, and his process was so fast. He was such a prolific songwriter that he somehow, you can tell, he literally just had the idea completely conceived in his mind and then just sat down and wrote the song, and he not only did that, over here he gives you suggestions. "I suggest two people in unison sing the first verse, subsequent verses." So he was giving you exactly how to voice it, how to perform it, and then on top of all of that, he here says, "Dear Pepper, I'm giving you copyright." So he actually gifted the copyright and said he was going to send a copy of this to his publishing company and that you have the right to publish this and use it to the benefit of your tree organization, at will, which is extraordinarily generous.
Pretty special, huh?
Yeah, and I think the reason that that spoke to me is that he just passed away in January of 2014, at the age of 94, and I think one of the things he's most associated with, apart from his actual folk music career, is his passion and drive for environmental issues and how active he was. He never stopped. Two weeks before he passed away, he was still trying to organize a march to honor Martin Luther King. He was doing things literally up until the moment that I think he was ready to leave the earth, and it's kind of a testament. Sadly, he didn't die a wealthy man. He had an amazing career.
In terms of money you mean?
In terms of money, and that's exactly where I'm coming from, but he was so generous, that look at what he created and how much he gave away of his creative spirit and his output to support the causes he believed in. He started the movement to clean up the Hudson River. We could be here all day if we listed every kind of environmental cause he got behind, but this is the kind of thing that would never be in the headlines. No one knew he did this. He did this because he cared about your cause and he wanted you to have this and he wanted to support it. So, all that to say, if we come around to the actual value of it, I mean, the value is really, truly priceless. His market has not really come around yet. It's the very, very infancy of it, but I do expect from here forward, as all of the artists he influenced-- Bruce Springsteen and so many again, too many to name-- start to appreciate his work. Currently at auction, they probably put somewhere around $800 to $1,200 on a piece like this. But, I think, hold on to it, because he's our last link to Woody Guthrie. When he was 21 he was performing with Woody Guthrie, and the Almanac Singers, so with him gone, it leaves this amazing legacy and who knows.
Well, to me that's a whole 'nother kind of wealth.
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